Is our addiction to Spirits a symptom of an UnSpirited society?

Spirits making up for a lack of connection to Spirit?

by Melissa Billington

MYOGA’s second focus in the deeper part of winter has been on the 7th chakra –  Sahasrara – a place of surrender, acceptance, unity consciousness and spirit.

As I let my vision be filled by these ideas, I became more and more aware of society’s mass disconnection from a sense of anything larger than ourselves – from Source – and how this shows up in our levels of medication and self-medication.

It is no accident that alcohol is called ‘spirits’ – it shares the same word-source as ‘spirit.’

Jung’s awareness of the shared etymological root of spirit, spirits, inspire and inspiration led to the eventual formation of Alcoholics Anonymous with its emphasis on a strong spiritual foundation.

Spirit also means being awake and alive, and aware of the value of life enough to embrace even the gritty bits, as opposed to numbing from them.  Spirit is a level of largesse that trusts there is more than just this one personality, and the mind that creates it.

I come from a long line of alcoholics so I’m no foreigner to heavy drinking, but the way folks drink here in New Zealand still disturbs me, even seven years later.  Recently I’ve also become more aware of, and profoundly disturbed by, the high rate of medicated youth in NZ.

Whether self-medicated with alcohol, caffeine, sugar, marijuana, tobacco, etc, or doctor-medicated with anti-depressants and the like to treat anxiety, depression and suicidal thinking, there’s a huge percentage of our society and our young people who are “not in their right minds.”

Is this pandemic of medicating and self-medicating revealing an essential lack of connection to oneSelf  and one another?

These dis-eases of disconnection from Source are 6th and 7th chakra issues – inabilities to see clearly and to connect to something ‘greater.’

Women go off all drugs while pregnant because they know even antibiotics will affect the developing foetus.  If we have this awareness and we take this level of care when we’re growing a new human, why don’t we do the same for ourselves on a general, on-going basis?

How is it that we’ve migrated so far from our connection to nature that most people will “take” something when they’re in pain or discomfort, instead of inquiring into the inherent root of the dis-ease and looking for a solution closer to the source – to the body itself and what it might be saying, and to the earth itself and what medicine it might offer?

And how is it that this has become the accepted norm?

A great many of us, from youth to elderly are anxious and depressed to the point of considering suicide! Through our persistent medication and self-medication we’re saying very clearly and loudly how unhappy, imbalanced and disconnected we are, and how much we want to escape.

By drinking or drugging we’re also saying we want to be happy, feel connected and be present.

We crave connection, clarity and purpose.  But the tools most of us have (often passed on unconsciously from our parents) of zoning out through drugs or television or shopping or food or sex or Facebook, create the opposite effects to what we crave. They take us farther away from Source.

If we were really honest we’d simply say, ‘I’m not happy.’  But maybe we’re just not aware that we’re not happy?  Or maybe we don’t have the tools and encouragement to work out how to be that honest about how we feel?

After all, many people are profiting from our drunkenness and druggedness – from bars to pharmacuetical companies to police and prisons (especially when privately owned and operated as businesses) to street cleaners.  Many people would be out of jobs if we didn’t drink and drug as much as we do, and then fight and vomit and trash the streets and ourselves week after week.

This year I started teaching yoga at the Drug Treatment Unit in the Arohata Women’s Prison (Tawa).  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years and I’m loving it.  The programme is simple and effective, though not necessarily easy.

It’s based on owning one’s story within community.

I’m certain that if our schools and our communities were structured more the way this programme is structured, far fewer people would need it farther down the track.

If we learned how to support one another to tell the truth, and to develop courage within community, we’d have tools for dealing with the challenges of life, instead of denying and repressing our truths by pushing them below the surface with medication.

Until the day that we live, essentially, more tribally, what are the tools anyone can access instead of reaching for the bottle, whether of booze or of pills?

If the actual underlying root issue is our sense of disconnection from Spirit and from each other, what creates a sense of connection in a healthy manner?

Well, of course, you know I’m going to say yoga!  And so will any other practice that grounds you in your body – this vehicle that makes life possible and which we neglect, abuse and take for granted.

Movement, sound and spirit-based practices all help alleviate and heal head-based illnesses like alienation and depression, particularly when those activities are done in groups focused on inclusivity instead of competition.

One of the best practices I’ve found for bridging between mind and body is Breath.  Pranayam practices are profound for developing connection to Self and Spirit.  In fact, ‘inspirare’ is the Latin root word that gives us spirit as well as the words inspire and expire.  If we don’t breathe, we’re dead.  When we breathe consciously and fully, we’re more conscious and full of life.

Next time you’re tempted to ‘reach for the spirits’ (of all kinds), ask yourself, Is it greater connection I’m really seeking here?

Is it Spirit?

What happens in that moment if instead… you take 10 deep, slow breaths?


  1. NickjButcher says

    Very insightful, the connection you draw between the spirit and using the spirit to obtain happiness, awesome, good luck on the teaching at Tawa, you have the ability to change lives there, NjB

  2. Richard says

    Kia ora Melissa, Kapai on the work you are doing at Arohata Women’s Prison.
    I think that if Maori youth for example went back to their marae and/or find out about their whakapapa and how wonderful their culture is through learning the language that this would give them a connection that would, as you say “ground them in their body”, complimented by using breath techniques that Yoga provides in such a self learning way.
    I am Maori and have just started my journey at a late age (40ish) learning Te Reo and with the practice of Yoga (2nd year), I haven’t felt so connected or in control before than I do now. This experience has sent me on a path of well being and health being the most important, little interest in mind altering substances such as alcohol hence my reason on the comments above and understanding that Maori represent a high % relating drug and alcohol abuse.
    It seems that youth seem to constantly seek mind altering substances for “escapism”, as a result of the pressure that society puts on the youth during these social media tools, economic climate, unemployment, and now lower minimum wage times.
    I have an 18yr old daughter and I see the pressures that she is under even though she is at university 1st year, financially she struggles – has student allowance loan that she will have to pay all of it back and that is besides the course fees, hard for a teenager to be in debt in their first year of leaving school even though a bigger plan is still a while away from reality, the ability to get part-time work was hard and she works 1 day a week, yet she is a girl and wants to wear or do things that she see’s on tv, facebook, Iphone applications, friends etc… that other girls her age is doing or wearing.
    I would hate to think of those youth that have dropped out of school because their focus of getting money and becoming more independant to help out their family, coming from a financially and socially poor background, the temptation for escapism must be very strong.
    Great read and reinforces that good people with pure intentions are fighting the good fight, sending a message of awareness to provide a positive impact to that one person that might come across this article and need to read this message. I hope many more young people do!! Because it could shape their future lives :-). Namaste.

    • says

      Wow Richard, thank you for your thoughtful response. You bring up a number of vital issues. It’s wonderful to hear of your discovery of your strong Self through yoga & reconnection to your heritage. Hailing from a First Nation background & seeing the levels of distress that often surround indigenous cultures, I wonder if they are more susceptible to alcohol, which is a cultured food, as they are more & more disenfranchised from their culture, their people & the stories that give the world sense. This is what I’ve seen in my own family at least. We substitute one culture for another & in the deep loss & sadness that ensues, we medicate with another culture–alcohol.

      I also appreciate your story of your daughter. I am only beginning to wrap my head & heart around the nature of the world for young people & hearing the details of her choices is helpful. What options are we giving our children, who are our future? You are setting a great example with your own changes & practices, but as you say, think of how many people don’t see any other way. No one is modelling any other way forward for them. I love the Maori spirit, the mana of the people, & would love to be more involved in extending yoga in their direction. Perhaps you can share what you’re learning with those you know…

      Namaste–be well,

    • Terimoana Gilgen says

      tena koe e Richard, Ko Terimoana tenei, e noho ana ki Kalgoorlie, He toune Mining. Kei te PaPai Rawa atu e hoa mo tou huarahi ako I tou Maoritanga me tou Wairua Tapu. He kaiako au I te ao Yoga. Ma te wa ka hokiatu ki toku whenua ki Tokomaru Bay me Kai Tahu hoki . Ka arohamai ki tou kotiro, ai ka mohio tera taumahatanga ki aku tamariki. Engari, me whakaeke a maua ki a ratau. Kua whakaai ahau ki tou korero ki tenei . Haere tonu ki te ako te reo. Kei te wareware te maha o nga kupu I te wa ka noho ki tenei whenua…..maha nga ra ki tangi ahau ki te mokemoke taku ngakau mo Aotearoa…. Na Terimoana Gilgen..

  3. Nicole says

    Beautiful inspiring words from both of you. Thanks Melissa for helping me to allow myself to open up to the wonderful world of yoga again at MYOGA, and to Richard for reminding me why I have a passion to work with young people. This reminds me why I want to work really hard to understand our behaviour and motives through my study of psychology. I am one of those people that needed to read your message Melissa!
    Thank you!

    • says

      Fantastic! So heartening that the practice spreads wings! I’m glad you’re benefitting & love your bright smile in classes! I’m sure those you work with will benefit from your care & awareness.
      Thank you,

  4. Thomas C Kantha says

    Dear Melissa,
    Thank you for your article.
    I just wanted to add this simple thought .
    Through the life of Yoga
    Come ,walk with me
    Through the life of yoga
    Enter the life of yoga
    A one way walk to the end
    Senses wide awake
    Never looking back
    The present is the only gift you carry
    Make space between the past and now
    When thoughts clear the future will be sown
    The life of yoga will unfold
    The life of yoga smells you and you would smell the life of yoga
    The life of yoga has no quarrel with you
    You walk is your walk of life
    Harmony grows for those who seek it
    The walk through the life of yoga will ease the mind’s conflicts
    Reaching the end of the walk,a new life begins

    • says

      Hello Thomas!
      Thank you for your thought(s)–you may say they’re simple, yet I’ve found that the simplest things are often the most challenging for the egoic mind that likes to make things complicated & unreachable. So yes, simple, though not necessarily easy or automatic! I particularly liked your phrase:
      The present is the only gift you carry
      Make space between the past and now

      Be well,


  1. […] One of the articles I wrote a couple years ago on these upper level energy centres, or chakras, talks in more detail about our western aversion to the dark depressions of life & how we self-medicate to avoid looking too closely. Another article discusses how there is a reason for all the seasons, if we will but honor them. In NZ we are deep in winter, a season many avoid. […]

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